Institutional knowledge, context, and community awareness.

Alberta universities are in crisis. The provincial budget hit us across the board for approximately 7%, and they’ve announced layoffs here. That affects me in ways that it wouldn’t usually.

While I’ve been at the Athabasca University I’ve also dabbled in academic research, and participated in all different kinds of operational and governance committees, from the many disparate projects I do testing for to the Budget and General Faculties Council committees I have sat on. There’s an advantage to my entanglement in the university’s operations; I’m as involved in the university as I possibly can be, at a lot of different levels. What that involvement gives me is an in depth understanding of the goals and direction of the institution and the needs of its many different areas. I have a really strong understanding of how the different departments work together, and what the broader goals of the institution they support are.

Right now, being involved and aware is a bit painful. It’s hard watching jobs get cut, and hard to be productive in the midst of massive institutional turmoil. Being so entrenched in all of this reminds me of the value it brings to my job.

We have a skeleton crew test team at AU, and I have to work on all different projects. It is amazingly valuable to understand the goals and context of the institution, it helps me to understand risks and priorities when preparing tests, it gives me a sense for business rules in our many different departments, and it keeps me focused.

What I’d like to stress here is how valuable it can be to understand your industry. Test Leads will still need to identify and communicate with stakeholders, and learn business rules, dig through documents, and attend meetings. We can’t eliminate that. But being active in your community gives you a sharper context and broader base of knowledge; when you never know what your next project will be, that can be invaluable.

My involvement in university governance and operations does take much needed time away from testing, but what I get out of it is at times counter intuitive, but well worth the time spent. Testing is largely a support job in many industries, we’re a part of software development, and that development is itself just a step toward broader institutional goals. Specialized knowledge is essential to the job, but it’s equally important to understand context; for most of us testing is not the final product, and in massive, complex workplaces a bit of perspective and broad institutional awareness can be worth its weight in gold.

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